It’s interesting, if you think about Greek and Roman mythology, that the Gods were so active and busy. Athena and Circe and Hermes all worked to help Odysseus. Apollo guided Achilles. Zeus and Jupiter were always getting involved in this squabble or that one. Sort of weird, right? They were Gods, they could do anything…or nothing…and yet they still worked really hard to keep the universe in balance or to see this cause or that one triumph.
There is a similar theme in the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna appears to Arjuna and tries to convince him of his destiny to fight in the Kurukshetra War. In one verse, he says, “I have no work to do in all the worlds, Arjuna, for these are mine. I have nothing to obtain, because I have it all. And yet I work…”
It could be said that the same theme emerges in the lives of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca and Cato, despite their status as lesser mortals. Marcus Aurelius was emperor and he could have just as easily spent his reign on an island retreat like his predecessor Tiberius. Seneca came from a wealthy family and could have spent his time on one of the family estates. Cato could have been a playboy or a bookish philosopher.
Yet all these men chose the active life instead. They chose to participate in public affairs. They risked their lives. They were not content to coast on their reputations or past accomplishments. They held themselves to high standards. They didn’t have to. But they did anyway.
And so must we–no matter how successful we get, nor how much easier it would be to rest on our laurels. Even when we have everything, even when we achieve wisdom and perspective about how silly and unimportant most worldly matters are, nothing exempts us from hard work. Nothing gives us a pass on our duty.
We just keep going. That’s the job of being a good person just as it’s the duty of a god.
P.S. This was originally sent on October 3rd, 2018. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.
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